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How Much Is The NSA Spying On Congress?

The National Security Agency, operated by the military, has targeted the private, peaceful, legal communications of everyday Americans through multiple electronic surveillance networks. Spying on civilian Americans has become a normal military activity – but how far this spying actually goes is known by few people. Even most members of Congress were kept in the dark by the NSA.

Now, one member of Congress is finally daring to directly ask the NSA how far the enormous military spying network penetrated the political offices of Capitol Hill. On Friday, Senator Bernard Sanders sent the following letter to General Keith Alexander, the Director of the National Security Agency:

“Dear General Alexander,

I am deeply concerned about recent revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence agencies are collecting enormous amounts of information about phone calls that Americans make, emails that we send, and websites that we visit. In my view, these actions are clearly unconstitutional. As U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon wrote recently, the NSA programs are “almost Orwellian”.

Equally disturbing was to learn that the NSA has been involved in listening in on the phone calls made by government leaders of countries such as Brazil, Germany, France, Mexico and other U.S. allies. This particular revelation has caused serious foreign policy setbacks for the United States, weakened our ability to work cooperatively with our allies, and caused an increase in anti-American sentiment throughout the world.

Indeed, we must be vigilant and aggressive in protecting the American people from the very real danger of terrorist attacks. I believe, however, that we can do that effectively without undermining the constitutional rights that make us a free country.

bernie sanders 2016 logoI am writing today to ask you one very simple question. Has the NSA spied, or is the NSA currently spying, on members of Congress or other American elected officials? “Spying” would include gathering metadata on calls made from official or personal phones, content from websites visited or emails sent, or collecting any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this very important matter. I look forward to working with you on this issue in the near future.”

No other politician in Congress has confronted the NSA in the straightforward manner of Bernie Sanders. Most other members of Congress, Democrat and Republican, have cooperated in the radical extension of NSA surveillance power against Americans.

It’s this bold stand against the military’s violation of the constitutional rights of millions of Americans that makes Senator Sanders the most exciting of the likely presidential candidates of the 2016 election.

3 thoughts on “How Much Is The NSA Spying On Congress?”

  1. Tom says:

    Judge rules: Most of U.S. has no protection from search by DHS

    A federal court Judge ruled that the so-called “constitution exemption zone” is legal. The zone extends 100 miles from any U.S. border, which covers roughly two-thirds of citizens.

    The ruling stems from an American Civil Liberties Union challenge to the practice three years ago.
    U.S. District Judge Edward Korman in New York issued the decision that upholds the federal government policy referred to as the “border exemption” for the Fourth Amendment protections of the Constitution. The exemption is typically used to search electronic devices without explainable cause or a warrant. The ruling allows the policy to continue without restriction.

    The ACLU generated this map of areas governed by the border exemption.

    [take a look and read the rest]

  2. Tom says:

    We’ve Known for Some Time that the NSA Is Spying On Congress

    Posted on January 8, 2014 by WashingtonsBlog

    What It Really Means

    The NSA pretty much admitted to spying on Congress this week.

    It’s not the first time. David Sirota notes:

    When I asked U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) if the NSA was keeping files on his colleagues, he recounted a meeting between NSA officials and lawmakers in the lead-up to a closely contested House vote to better regulate the agency:

    “One of my colleagues asked the NSA point blank will you give me a copy of my own record and the NSA said no, we won’t. They didn’t say no we don’t have one. They said no we won’t. So that’s possible.”

    Grayson is right: presumably, if the NSA wasn’t tracking lawmakers, it would have flatly denied it. Instead, those officials merely denied lawmakers access to whatever files the agency might have. That suggests one of two realities: 1) the NSA is keeping files on lawmakers 2) the NSA isn’t keeping files on lawmakers, but answered vaguely in order to stoke fear among legislators that it is.

    Sirota notes the danger of even the threat of spying on the legislature:

    Regardless of which of these realities happens to be the case, the mere existence of legitimate fears of congressional surveillance by an executive-branch agency is a serious legal and separation-of-powers problem. Why? Because whether or not the surveillance is actually happening, the very real possibility that it even could be happening or has happened can unduly intimidate the legislative branch into abrogating its constitutional oversight responsibilities. In this particular case, it can scare congressional lawmakers away from voting to better regulate the NSA.

    And the Atlantic points out:

    Access to that telephone metadata would be extremely useful for manipulating the legislature.


    Sound paranoid?

    Maybe. But remember:
    ◾The NSA has been tracking people’s porn in order to discredit them. The New York Times reports that this type of behavior has been going on for a long time: “J. Edgar Hoover compiled secret dossiers on the sexual peccadillos and private misbehavior of those he labeled as enemies — really dangerous people like … President John F. Kennedy, for example”.
    ◾A high-level NSA whistleblower says that the NSA is spying on – and blackmailing – top government officials and military officers, including Supreme Court Justices, high-ranked generals, Colin Powell and other State Department personnel, and many other top officials
    ◾Another very high-level NSA whistleblower – the head of the NSA’s global intelligence gathering operation – says that the NSA targeted CIA chief Petraeus
    ◾Blackmail of Congress members may be common

    Indeed, because the NSA’s raw information is shared with Israel, it is possible that the Israeli government is blackmailing our congress members. The Guardian reported in September:

    The National Security Agency routinely shares raw intelligence data with Israel without first sifting it to remove information about US citizens, a top-secret document provided to the Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals.


    According to the agreement, the intelligence being shared would not be filtered in advance by NSA analysts to remove US communications. “NSA routinely sends ISNU [the Israeli Sigint National Unit] minimized and unminimized raw collection”, it says.


    A much stricter rule was set for US government communications found in the raw intelligence. The Israelis were required to “destroy upon recognition” any communication “that is either to or from an official of the US government“. Such communications included those of “officials of the executive branch (including the White House, cabinet departments, and independent agencies), the US House of Representatives and Senate (member and staff) and the US federal court system (including, but not limited to, the supreme court)”.

    And it’s not just the NSA.

    Last year, Eric Holder refused to say whether the Department of Justice was spying on Congress.

    When one branch of government spies on another, “America has no functioning democracy”.

  3. Jim Cook says:

    Tom, yep. The original source is The Guardian:

    The NSA statement reads: “NSA’s authorities to collect signals intelligence data include procedures that protect the privacy of US persons. Such protections are built into and cut across the entire process. Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all US persons. NSA is fully committed to transparency with Congress. Our interaction with Congress has been extensive both before and since the media disclosures began last June.”

    “We are reviewing Senator Sanders’s letter now, and we will continue to work to ensure that all members of Congress, including Senator Sanders, have information about NSA’s mission, authorities, and programs to fully inform the discharge of their duties.”

    If “Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all US persons,” then YES, the NSA is spying on Congress.

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